Quietly Courageous: Break Out of “Old Boxes”
January 23, 2019
by Gil Rendle, author, and former TMF senior vice president, former senior consultant, and director of consulting for the Alban Institute. As an ordained minister with a Ph.D. in organizational and group dynamics, Gil has worked with congregations across denominations for more than thirty years.
Breaking out of boxes.
No doubt you’ve heard people talk about the importance of breaking out of old boxes as a prerequisite to doing new things. It is a frequently repeated idea. However, what is not so often considered is that breaking out of boxes is a discipline to be practiced, not a quick fix that suddenly sets someone free. The cliché comes easier to the tongue than to changed behavior. Something new and different commonly takes effort.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. said, “The only simplicity for which I would give a straw is that which is on the other side of the complex – not that which has never divined it.” Quick simplicities that don’t engage complexities offer false hope allowing us to cling to old ways and avoid the hard work of change. Simplicity on the other side of complexity, however, requires time and disciplined thought. By definition, it is hard work. And requires courage.
Courage. Think of foreign travel. It takes courage to step into a foreign land where language, foods, and customs are different, uncomfortable, and even disorienting. Yet it is courage that most of us are fully capable of; in fact, it is courage many of us actively practice while traveling because of the pleasure and benefits we are so sure of. Through such courage in the face of discomfort we, and our worldviews, are changed.
I wrote Quietly Courageous: Leading the Church in a Changing World to be such a “foreign trip.” The church is now actually living in a foreign land. I make a persuasive argument as I can in chapter two that the very place where we live has changed in deep and fundamental ways. The short simplicity on the other side of a disorienting complexity is that we, over the period of three generations, have changed from a “communal” to an “individual” culture. To be relevant in this new foreign “individual” land, leaders must do the hard work of breaking out of the boxes of seeing both the church and the culture in old ways. Congregations, and their leaders, now must muster up the courage to step out and travel in the foreign land that has progressively come to surround them.
Such foreign living is tiring. So many things need to be noticed so that behavior and expectations can be adjusted. Our older son, Matthew, took time in his college education to study in Barcelona, Spain. He and a friend set off with both the energy and the clothes of two young student-athletes. Who would have guessed that wearing sneakers in the city park, let alone the university, would be inappropriate and set them off as foreigners? Who would have thought it mattered? But, it did, and it required a change of behavior. Figuring out such small, but significant differences is demanding and tiring. However, if one wants to live and build relationships in a new land, it is the hard work of breaking out of old and comfortable boxes.
Quietly Courageous, as a book, is a disciplined read. Writing the book was an effort to find the simplicities necessary on the other side of complexity. Reading the book is a disciplined effort in confronting the “boxes” that constrain us from living purposefully in our own new foreign land. Staying with the travel metaphor, Quietly Courageous is a kind of travelogue that disappointingly has no pictures. But as a travelogue, it does point out changes and differences, that if noted and observed, can help us to live more like natives in a new land.
P.S. If you purchase Quietly Courageous at Rowman & Littlefield with the promotional code RLFANDF20, you will receive 20% off the purchase price.